10 skippers ready for World Series quest
While the job has evolved considerably in a short time, managers still matter in Major League Baseball. As the postseason begins, it's worth exploring the path the 10 men guiding the October-bound took to get to this point.
A.J. Hinch, Astros
Here's another guy who had to overcome the stigma associated with the way his last managerial stint ended. The D-backs gave Hinch the managerial reins early in the 2009 season and was dismissed a little more than a year later. Though he had spent parts of seven seasons in the bigs as a player, Hinch was very much an experimental hire, as he moved into the dugout from the front office, where he had served as farm director.
Coming off four seasons in which they averaged 104 losses, the Astros turned to Hinch to be a key communicator on a club that values advanced analytics perhaps more than any other. Hinch, the Majors' second-youngest manager at 41, has exuded much more comfort this time around, and his open-mindedness to new ideas has proven to be an asset for a club that defied expectations.
"To have one style and expect 25 players to fit that style is naïve," Hinch said. "It's about how to run a club, and how you rely on veteran players and coaches to do their part. It's about not feeling like you have to do everything. It is necessary to delegate."
Joe Girardi, Yankees
News flash: Managing the Yankees is a different animal. As a former catcher on those great Yankee teams of the late 1990s, Girardi certainly knew this. Of course, when you're dismissed by the Marlins six weeks before you win the NL Manager of the Year Award (in 2006), you're accustomed to the crazy situations this game can throw at you.
But Girardi has handled the off-field demands of this job with aplomb, and in recent years he developed a reputation for getting the most out of a club loaded with players injured and/or past their performance peak. This year, he backed Alex Rodriguez when nobody else did, and A-Rod responded with a big bounceback season. A-Rod recently told the New York Post that Girardi has "the discipline of a NAVY Seal and an Ivy League mind," and it's clear that, for all the attention paid to the trusty binder of statistics he's used for bullpen moves, Girardi's greatest strength is managing people and dealing with egos.
Joe Maddon, Cubs
Not many managers could inspire the kind of fanfare that Maddon engendered when he came to the Cubs last fall. Even fewer could back it up as quickly as Maddon has with this predominantly young club.
We all knew Maddon as the hipster-looking forward-thinker who helped make the Rays an AL East power on a puny budget. He arrived to the Cubs a rock star, offering to buy the media a shot and a beer ("That's the Hazleton [Pa.] way," he said) at his introductory press conference. Despite fielding a lineup often loaded with rookies, Maddon had this club playing its absolute best baseball in the crux of the postseason chase.
"He's a self-confident guy who believes in himself and that builds trust in the players," Cubs catcher David Ross said. "And when you trust your manager and your leadership, then you are able to go out and play without thinking and thinking is going to hinder you. He creates a winning environment because of his personality and what he believes."
And though he hasn't made themed road trips a regularity like he did in Tampa Bay, the 61-year-old Maddon did bring a magician into the clubhouse in the midst of a losing streak, and that seemed to work pretty well. We'll see what other tricks he has up his sleeve now.
Clint Hurdle, Pirates
From the daily inspirational e-mails he sends out to staff (imploring people to "make a difference") to the motivational books lining the shelf of his desk in his office to the thought-provoking quotes placed upon an in-clubhouse video board, the 58-year-old Hurdle is a man who obviously believes in the power of words. But one line he particularly likes to repeat is as follows:
"There are two kinds of people in this game: Those who are humble, or those who are about to be."
The Pirates have had to remain humble. Under Hurdle, they've posted the second-best record in the Majors over the last three years and ended what had been a 20-year October drought. Hurdle's booming voice has been an effective communication asset, his expert bullpen management has ensured consistency in the back end, and his ability to relay the information assets from the front office to the players on the field has made the Pirates an organization worth mimicking. A difference-maker, indeed.
Jeff Banister, Rangers
When the Rangers hired Banister on the heels of an injury riddled, 95-loss 2014 in which Ron Washington stepped down because of personal issues, many casual fans didn't know much, if anything, about him. They didn't know about his battle with bone cancer at a young age. They didn't know about the osteomyelitis that led one doctor to believe a left ankle amputation was necessary. They didn't know that Banister underwent seven operations to battle these issues and stay on the baseball field, where he broke into the big leagues with the Pirates in the early 1990s. They didn't know that Banister went on to spend 29 years in the Pittsburgh organization, becoming Clint Hurdle's trusted right-hand man during the Pirates' rise to relevance.
And even when the 51-year-old Banister took over the Rangers, nobody knew what was looming in his rookie year at the helm. But this determined leader's influence was essential on a Texas team that needed to believe in itself again.
"Banister always made us believe this could happen," said Prince Fielder after the Rangers clinched the AL West, "so we never thought it wouldn't."
Terry Collins, Mets
Collins had to wonder if this day would come. He had a three-year stint in Houston, where he guided the Astros to three straight second-place finishes. Two more second-place finishes followed with the Angels, and things went so far south the third year there that Collins was dismissed midseason.
Those two jobs were in the 1990s, which, given the way professional sports operate, might as well have been an eternity ago. Collins had developed a reputation for being too tense, so this was not a guy guaranteed to be given a third chance. But the Mets were impressed enough with his work as a Minor League field coordinator that they gave him the opportunity before 2011.
Now in his fifth season at the helm, Collins, 66, finally had a postseason-worthy roster after the Mets' in-season trades, but his confidence in this club never wavered before that point, even when the bats sagged early, even when he had to be ultra-careful with his young starters' innings and even when people wondered if Collins' job was safe.
"This is worth all the effort, all the hours," he said. "There's no way to describe it until you've done it. It's worth all the time, all the effort, all the press conferences, all the things you do. This is the culmination of it all."
John Gibbons, Blue Jays
Another guy who has benefited from a second chance, but with a big twist. Gibbons' second chance came with the club that dismissed him in the first place.
Gibbons, 53, spent three full and two partial seasons at the helm of the Blue Jays in 2004-08, and he was let go after a 35-39 start in that '08 season. He was pretty much off the Major League radar from that point, until Alex Anthopoulos was looking for somebody to lead a drastically rebuilt Blue Jays club following a mega-trade with the Marlins before the 2013 season.
"I don't know that there was anybody better in terms of managing a bullpen, connecting with players, connecting with the front office, holding players accountable -- really everything you want from a manager," Anthopoulos said at the time. "I don't know that there's anybody better to manage a team."
Gibbons has never been afraid to trust a young player, and that stance paid off most dramatically with 20-year-old Roberto Osuna's ascension to the closer role this year. Though the Blue Jays underperformed in 2013, continued to labor in '14 and got off to a slow start in '15, they stuck with Gibbons, and both parties have been rewarded with this run to October.
Mike Matheny, Cardinals
It's now not all that unusual for a team to hire a guy with zero previous managerial experience to be its skipper, but when the Cardinals did it with Matheny prior to 2012 (the same time the White Sox did it with Robin Ventura), it caught the industry off-guard. Not only was Matheny being entrusted with a playoff-caliber club, he was replacing a legend in Tony La Russa.
Matheny is one tough and determined individual. Perhaps you've seen the video from his playing days as a catcher with the Brewers, when he got hit with a fastball to the face at the plate and didn't even flinch. You've probably heard of "The Matheny Manifesto," a book that was an extension of a 2,500-word letter he wrote outlining expectations and beliefs in youth coaching that went viral several years back.
Thing is, for all his success, Matheny doesn't get much credit for his work. He's never finished higher than fourth in the Manager of the Year vote, but perhaps guiding a team that lost its ace and various other important pieces to injury yet still managed to win 100 games in the toughest division in baseball will change that.
"It's his ability to lead both by example and also in the clubhouse," third baseman Matt Carpenter said. "The respect that he gives to our players and also the respect that he demands [from] our staff is something that's really special."
Ned Yost, Royals
The once-rampant criticism of Yost has died down considerably in the wake of the Royals' run to the World Series last year. Everything Yost touched turned to gold in that run, and the key was Yost's willingness to evolve out of the past bullpen patterns that had gotten him into trouble. Yost's players love him. They love him for his patience, and they love him for the trust he puts in them.
Yost learned many wonderful things while working on Bobby Cox's staff in Atlanta, but some of the edicts he inherited from Cox -- no music in the clubhouse, no fraternizing with the other team, etc. -- were dated and unpopular by the time he employed them in Milwaukee and Kansas City.
But Yost has become the winningest manager in Royals history with a competitive mindset, patient approach and the willingness to grow.
"You can't control everything," he said. "It's the players who have to perform. When players weren't performing, it used to tear me up. It used to kill me. 'Is there something I should be doing? What can I do? What can I do?' You have to give them the time it takes to pull through, but you can't control their performance on the field. They have to perform. That was a rough lesson to have to learn."
Don Mattingly, Dodgers
As a player, Mattingly was a six-time All-Star, one-time MVP and borderline Hall of Famer who only made one postseason appearance.
Asa a manager, Mattingly has received no such accolades, but has now guided the Dodgers to three straight division titles -- something no Dodger manager before him had ever done.
Managing a club with the largest payroll in the sport can be a thankless job, and Mattingly has had to deal with more than his fair share of clubhouse characters. But he's grown steadily in his role as skipper, learned from his mistakes and put this team in position to win a World Series once again.
"One of the biggest themes we've had is roster turnover with the injuries and having a lot of young players with options and trying to make maximum use of the 25-man roster," general manager Farhan Zaidi said. "That definitely puts added stress on a manager and staff, not just to deal with the logistics of those moves, but also to deal with managing personnel turnover. There certainly have been challenges with our roster that he's had to navigate and I think he's done a nice job."